Getting away to charming Nevada City

October 10, 2016

The historic streets of Nevada City date back to the Gold Rush, when the New York Hotel was first built. These days, the building houses a variety of shops

Like many Gold Rush towns, charming Nevada City, Calif., offers a blast to the 49ers’ past. But this small town on the Sierra’s western slopes, an hour north of Sacramento, offers irresistible modern-day pleasures, too, from burgers at the public house to a vintage boutique with a "Burning Man wearables" section. There are wine-tasting rooms, an artisanal ice cream shop and — did we mention swimming holes?

We’re not even sure where to start here — maybe with the gauzy, skimpy, neon-hued Burning Man wearables? The sweet red pepper and strawberry sorbet? Or the pulled pork sandwiches with a side of hammered dulcimer and mandolin music?

The leaves are just beginning to change color and there’s a crispness to the air — or there will be soon. But the ice-melt that feeds the South Fork of the Yuba River has warmed to a more comfortable 70 degrees by now, so if you’re feeling intrepid, there’s still time for one last dip on a warm October day. Or, if it’s sweater weather when you visit, a leaf-peeping foray that takes in the beauty of this rugged region is just the ticket. Nevada City and neighboring Grass Valley are prime fall-color terrain, as the birch, amber, oak and century-old maple trees turn the countryside to riotous shades of crimson, russet and gold.

On this particular warm weekend, we’ve headed north up Highway 49, thinking we’ll do a little camping, check out the river and stroll through the historic town — only to find the place so charming, we can barely tear ourselves away. The entire downtown is a national historic landmark, so when you pop into the Truffle Shop, for example, to sate your chocolate cravings, you’re inside the historic New York Hotel, which dates back to 1880.

The town itself dates back to 1849, when it was known as Deer Creek Dry Diggings — and later as Caldwell’s Upper Store, named for a local shop frequented by gold miners and early settlers. In the 19th century, Nevada City was a bustling metropolis. Today, it’s a Victorian-era charmer, with enough amusements to fill a weekend itinerary.

If you prefer to operate on the "life is short, eat dessert first" principle, begin your visit by following the trail of happy ice cream cone-toting kids to Treats, Bob and Peggy Wright’s tiny (and fabulous) creamery, which traffics in handmade, organic ice cream and seasonal sorbets. The Riverhill Red, for example, is a sweet red pepper and strawberry blend made from fruit from Riverhill Farm on the outskirts of town. The Swiss Orange Chip blends orange oil into milk chocolate ice cream to re-create the flavor of those chocolate oranges you get in your Christmas stocking.

We polish off our ice cream before exploring the neighboring storefronts, peeking into the bookshop and the aforementioned vintage store (cool bow ties, as well as Burning Man-appropriate garb), before ducking into the Earth Store, a science and nature-themed gift shop, to pick up a small, inflatable solar lantern. We’d discovered the lanterns at the Inn Town Campground — Dan and Erin Thiem, the owners of the Outside Inn, opened the glamp-ground this summer — and wanted one of our own.

It’s a compact downtown, anchored by buildings that date back to another century’s heyday. The town’s well-preserved Firehouse No. 1 is no longer a first responder. These days, it’s the local history museum, manned by an enthusiastic docent eager to share stories of early settlers and the American Indians who originally populated this land — and who were thrown off their land by the federal government in 1964, a date of such relatively recent vintage, it stops not just us but other visitors cold.

We can’t quite decide if we’re up for a swim — the Yuba River swimming holes are legendary, but we’re tired and hungry, the ice cream having reminded us that the whole "life is short" thing is going to be shorter, if we don’t mix in some protein and vegetables. And by the time we’ve relaxed at Matteo’s Public, the Margulies family’s locavore pub, where the chicken is Mary’s Organic, the burger meat is sustainably raised and the pulled pork is just plain yummy, swimming sounds like entirely too much work.

We head back to our glamping tent and dream of swimming holes.

———

IF YOU GO

The Truffle Shop: Chef Willem DeGroot’s chocolate truffle shop is open daily at 408 Broad St., Nevada City; www.thetruffleshop.com.

Treats: Handmade, organic ice cream served in waffle cones daily at 110 York St.; treatsnevadacity.com.

Earth Store: Find bird feeders, solar lanterns, books and other science and nature-related gifts at this shop, which is open daily at 310 Broad St.; www.earthstorenc.com.

Firehouse No. 1 Museum: This local history museum is open Tuesday-Sunday at 214 Main St.; www.nevadacountyhistory.org.

Matteo’s Public: This locavore pub, which has live music every night, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, dinner only on Monday. 300 Commercial St.; matteospublic.com.

South Yuba River Park: This state park on Highway 49 has riverside trails, swimming holes and other attractions. Find details and maps at www.southyubariverstatepark.org.

Inn Town Campground: Open just a few months, this new campground offers tent sites, RV hook-ups and glamping tents about a mile from Nevada City’s historic downtown; inntowncampground.com.

 

 





 


McClatchy Tribune Information Services